TUCSON, Ariz. — Released last week, "King of Fighters XV" is making the rounds in the fighting game world.
The SNK title rounds up 39 characters in three-on-three online and offline matches. Here are our critic's impressions:
Phil Villarreal: I found it hard to put down. This is the best-looking and most polished "King of Fighters" game I've seen. The animations and move sets are impressive, and the character roster is solid. What were your first impressions, Sean?
Sean Newgent: It's been six years since "King of Fighters 14," and in that time, there have been a handful of 2D fighters in the same vein that have overshadowed that entry. While I find myself more attracted to "Soul Caliber" and "Tekken,"; I've always had a love for playing "KOF" with friends and found this latest entry to be a perfectly alright game that captures the spirit of the series without reinventing the wheel or doing anything to distinguish itself enough to attract non-fans. In a genre that depends on longevity, having players perfect their favorite characters to compete on and off-line in competitions, I'm not sure that this game has enough going on to make current "Guilty Gear" or "Street Fighter" fans migrate.
To your point, it's hard to put down. It's a ton of fun to play with a bevy of new and fan-favorite characters offering varied fighting styles and personalities. Whether playing with a fighting stick or a controller, it feels so good to string together a brutal, health-draining combo with any character.
What did you think of the game's myriad features? Did any stick out?
PV: I like varying up my teams with fighters with varied ranges and skillsets in order to keep opponents off-guard. I enjoyed Whip's ability to whip people, dancing around while keeping the enemy at bay with her ever-present weapon well. Then I would follow with the heavy-hitter Maxima, a tank who can stand up to immense damage while doling out devastating heavy blows. My finisher is Ash Crimson, an oddball wildcard who's really annoying to deal with on the other side.
As an aggressive combatant, I found it frustrating that the game semi-encourages turtling, granting players a hefty defense meter that allows blocks to nullify attacks completely. I'm definitely more of a checker than a chess player when it comes to fighting games, and the emphasis on blocking threw me off. I suspect the addition is to make "KOF XV" a more viable e-sports enterprise. What caught you off-guard?
SN: Having had friends who played fighting games semi-professionally and gotten in on those sessions, I think blocking, parrying, and countering throws especially is one of the biggest barriers for casual fighting game players. Something I quite enjoy about KOF is how easy it is to roll, teleport, or step to the other side of your opponent to get an advantage, and I think that's one of the biggest keys to dominating opponents on top of having a good grasp of the aforementioned defensive capabilities.
I end up playing Athena a lot because of her teleport ability and because I've played with her across all the "KOF" games I've dabbled in across the years. I also quite like Elisabeth and King of Dinosaurs (because every fighting game needs an obligatory giant animal man). While the roster has a ton of great characters, I always found "KOF" to have less memorable fighters than "Street Fighter" or "Tekken."
But aside from couch play, online, and fighting bots, the game doesn't offer many other features that would make a casual fighting game fan jump onboard. The genre isn't known for having great story modes (in fact, some of the worst stories in gaming can be found in fighting games). Still, even the story mode here feels cursory, giving cutscenes showcasing the characters but no narrative cohesion during fighting sections that let you choose your team rather than give you a team that works within the narrative. It's easy to argue a game like this isn't about single-player and is all about training and fighting online, but I also have a hard time justifying a $60 purchase based entirely on that.
Final thoughts, Phil?
PV: For me, all single-player content in fighting games amounts to throwaway fluff. What will matter over the long haul is how well the community supports the game and how thorough developers are at addressing their needs.
Pretty much every fighting game improves vastly after launch, and I expect that out of "King of Fighters XV." While I'm impressed with what it delivers out of the gate, I'll set it aside if developers fail to follow up with significant content drops. Updates will also need to address balancing and exploits to maintain an even playing field and ensure that skill wins out. For me, "King of Fighters XV" is an en emphatic round one win, but the fight has only just begun.
The publisher provided review codes.
Sean played the game on PS4; Phil on Xbox Series X.
Phil Villarreal is the senior real-time editor for KGUN 9. He is also a digital producer and host of "Phil on Film" seen weekly on Good Morning Tucson, Phil moved to KGUN after 17 years with the Arizona Daily Star. He is married and has four children. Share your story ideas and important issues with Phil by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or by connecting on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
Sean Newgent has been with KGUN9 since January of 2020 and is Good Morning Tucson's executive producer. He graduated from Illinois State University with a degree in broadcast journalism. He is a critic and cultural commentator. Share your story ideas and important issues with Sean by emailing email@example.com.
Past game reviews by Sean and Phil: